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The War that Ended Peace: How Europe abandoned peace for the First World War Hardcover – 17 Oct 2013

4.5 out of 5 stars 129 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 704 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books (17 Oct. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 184668272X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846682728
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 5.9 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (129 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 89,708 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description


The War that Ended Peace tells the story of how intelligent, well-meaning leaders guided their nations into catastrophe. These epic events, brilliantly described by one our era's most talented historians, warn of the dangers that arise when we fail to anticipate the consequences of our actions. Immersed in intrigue, enlivened by fascinating stories, and made compelling by the author's own insights, this is one of the finest books I have read on the causes of World War I. (Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State)

Once again, Margaret MacMillan proves herself not just a masterly historian but a brilliant storyteller. She brings to life the personalities whose decisions, rivalries, ambitions, and fantasies led Europe to "lay waste to itself" and triggered decades of global conflict. Hers is a cautionary tale of follies a century in the past that seem all too familiar today. (Strobe Talbott, President, Brookings Institution)

The War That Ended Peace is a masterful explanation of the complex forces that brought the Edwardian world crashing down. Utterly riveting, deeply moving, and impeccably researched, MacMillan's latest opus will become the definitive account of old Europe's final years (Amanda Foreman)

splendidly well written - fluent, engaging, well-paced and, despite the grim subject, often entertaining (Richard Overy New Statesman) and suggestive... MacMillan is a wry and humane chronicler of this troubled world... lively and sophisticated... as MacMillan observes in a closing sentence that is well worth taking to heart, 'there are always choices' (Christopher Clark London Review of Books)

She writes prose like an Audi - purring smoothly along the diplomatic highway, accelerating effortlessly as she goes the distance. This is a ground-breaking book, decisively shifting the debate away from the hoary old question of Germany's war guilt. MacMillan's history is magisterial - dense, balanced and humane. The story of Europe's diplomatic meltdown has never been better told. (Jane Ridley Spectator)

The Canadian historian laces The War That Ended Peace with deft character sketches and uses sources incisively...MacMillan escorts the reader skilfully through the military, diplomatic and political crises that framed the road to war from 1870 to 1914. (Tony Barber FT)

Margaret MacMillan, the author of Peacemakers , which won numerous prizes, is that wonderful combination - an academic and scholar who writes well, with a marvellous clarity of thought. Her pen portraits of the chief players are both enjoyable and illuminating. Among the cascade of books arriving for the anniversary, this work truly stands out (Antony Beevor Times)

MacMillan is a perceptive guide to the thought processes of the key players (Simon Griffith Mail on Sunday)

excellent, elegantly written fine an assessment of the reason peace failed as any yet written (Saul David Evening Standard)

Few historians have better credentials to write about the origins of the First World War than the Oxford scholar Margaret MacMillan...with its lovely elegant style, keen eye for human foibles and impeccable attention to detail, this is one of the most enjoyably readable books of the year (Dominic Sandbrook Sunday Times)

A sweeping but immensely readable impressive feat (Bronwen Maddox Prospect)

MacMillan's superb and very entertainingly written guide to this Europe - a Europe, as she shows, similar to our own in some ways, but very different in others - will be warmly welcomed by different kinds of reader. Those who "know" the subject will find new perspectives and new ways of looking at it, while those less familiar with it could hardly find a better introduction or a better basis for judging some of the centenary polemics we now face. (Roger Morgan Times Higher Education)

[A] richly textured account of the road to war (David Blackbourn Guardian)

Magnificent...The War That Ended Peace will certainly rank among the best books of the centennial crop. (The Economist)

vivid, gripping and scholarly (Piers Brendon Independent)

monumental...sharply observed, pacy book (Lionel Barber FT Books of the Year)

the most balanced and readable study of the first world war's causes (Tony Barber FT Books of the Year)

a fascinating must-read book for anyone who wants to understand the centenary of this event next August, and Ireland's place within it (Ruairí Quinn Irish Times Books of the Year)

brilliant...the author is not merely a fine scholar...but she is also terrifically sensible, a rare combination (Max Hastings Mail on Sunday Books of the Year) of the most incise and brilliant narratives of the causes of the greatest tragedy of the 20th century... (The Sydney Morning Herald 2014-02-22)

Book Description

The definitive history of the political, cultural, military and personal forces which shaped Europe's path to the Great War

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Customer Reviews

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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In this long but easy-to-read volume, Professor MacMillan describes the events leading to the world’s greatest ever traffic accident. She shows that, while all the various parties with their varied and often wildly divergent interests actually didn’t want war, for various reasons (fear, honour, national pride, wanting to be perceived as a great power or simply taken seriously, and fear for the future in a changing world) they were prepared for it. Indeed, many seemed to accept it as inevitable and even necessary. In the succession of minor (and generally successfully defused) international crises leading to the First World War, the parties were often to be found calculating when they could afford to go to war, and perhaps more importantly, how this related to the preparedness of the putative adversary, even to the point of contemplating a pre-emptive strike. However, they were all basically relying on bluff, and had given relatively little thought as to what would happen when all the bluffs were called.

Whose fault was it? Everybody’s and nobody’s. They all – Britain, Germany, France, Russia, Austria-Hungary, Serbia – made individual blunders in the affair. Those individual blunders were of themselves survivable, but together they represented a pile of tinder. The spark was the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and his wife at Sarajevo and the pig-headed determination of Austria-Hungary, backed by the thoughtless “blank cheque” provided by Wilhelmine Germany, to use this as a reason have it out with the detested Serbia, but the tinder was ready and waiting.

Professor MacMillan brilliantly brings out all the varied threads of these events of a century ago, reinforcing Christopher Clark’s “sleepwalkers” thesis in his book of the same name.
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A gripping read, suitable for a history novice, or an expert.
Beginning with the Paris Exhibition of 1900, Prof MacMillan charts European history to the outbreak of war, picking out, with the benefit of all we now know, how a series of events, along with a prevailing culture of militarism, and theories of how war should be conducted, and all the limitations of the period too, brought us closer to war.
As the introduction makes clear, it was not so much that the European powers intended to go to war, its that the various options were gradually narrowed down, so war became, apparently the only choice. I say apparently, for as Margaret Macmillan points out, there are always choices.
Even as we all know the outcome, the book holds the reader in suspense, as time and events march on.
Throughout the book we get a sympathetic appreciation for all the key players, with their strengths and foibles. Each chapter deals with significant events, e.g. the two Morocco crises, the Balkan wars, or aspects and movements of the time, e.g. the peace movements, military plans, militarism. We learn how all of this shapes the leaders of the day, and the various alliances that form between the powers. In the main, there's helpful analysis towards the end of each chapter, of what impact these events/factors had on the path to war. We also get an appreciation of the period, and how the key players were men (mainly men) of their time.
We are treated throughout the book to a then European perspective. How Europeans felt, how Europeans reacted, what values Europeans held dear, and so on. We get an insight into early 20th century European culture; this I found refreshing, exhilarating almost, drawing out a European identity.
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'Preventive war is like committing suicide out of fear of death' (Bismarck).

'It had to come' (US Ambassador in London, 1914).

'Torture and Cannibalism were the only two expedients that the civilised, scientific, Christian States had been able to deny themselves:and these were of doubtful utility'. (W.Churchill).

'Please restrain Conrad' (Archduke Ferdinand in 1908).

'You'll be home before the leaves fall'. (Kaiser to troops in August 1914).

'He was like a battleship with steam up and screws going but with no rudder, and he will run into something one day and cause a catastrophe'.( Sir Edward Grey describing the Kaiser).

Professor Sir Michael Howard has written that you cannot understand the causes of the Great War or indeed any war unless you also understand the political, economic, social and cultural environment in which it took place. Hence, the ramshackle nature of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, the constitutional arrangements of Germany post 1870,the surging nationalism in Serbia and the fragile nature of Tsarist Russia must be understood.For this reason, historians like Professor Margaret Macmillan now concentrate more on issues and developments in all of these fields instead of researching only diplomatic exchanges.

This essential requirement reveals the paucity and trivial nature of some of the offerings in the current cascade of books on the Great War, and why this account shines like pure gold. Those accounts that 'read like novels' do so because most of them consist of fiction and myth. No war has been so subjected to mythology, or stands so much in need of the correcting force of fundamental simplicities, as the Great War.
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